The Unfinished Pietà

“Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve managed this blog since 2000. It was originally on Blogger and initially launched as something called ‘Unfinished Architecture.’ I moved to WordPress in 2010 after Blogger deprecated publishing via FTP. The old content was available via the current site (as static HTML) but it was hacked and injected with some redirect ridiculousness. I still have the old content and plan to sanitize and republish it one day -or- maybe Burgoyne can while picking through the detritus.

The one problem with blogging for sixteen years is that you eventually forget what books, poems, paintings, and themes you reference and quote in posts. You would think I’ve accrued enough literary capital to add something original at least once a week, but as eclectic as this mess is, the interests in my life follow broad patterns and themes (most of which I return to time and time again). I wonder if that’s normal or if my life is really that boring?

I also very rarely publish original content, preferring to aggregate content (long before curation and social media were careers). Blogging has gone through so many phases (may even be passé at this point) and I never really believed that anyone gave a rats a** what someone was posting to a blog. WHO really cares what anyone has to say on the internet (unless it’s inflammatory)? More critically, my blog is a distillation (a digital journal) of the 4-6 hours I spend every weekend reading and researching broad categories of interests in-between home and work (and mostly work).

That rather lengthy intro was a segue to the real point of this post. Current events have pushed 1984 to the best sellers list (again). Orwell is generally seized by the left and the right whenever it’s convenient, but if you remove politics, the warnings are quite blind. Here’s Winston Smith on obliterating the past via the memory hole and the hammer of whatever ‘ism’ is fashionable at the moment:

“One could not learn history from architecture any more than one could learn it from books. Statues, inscriptions, memorial stones, the names of streets – anything that might throw light upon the past had been systematically altered.”

He doesn’t quite answer the why in that passage, but Winston sensed that objects, places, and words were part of the essentialness of being human. The past is as immutable as 2+2=4:

“What appealed to him about it was not so much its beauty as the air it seemed to possess of belonging to an age quite different from the present one…The thing was doubly attractive because of its apparent uselessness, though he could guess that it must once have been intended as a paperweight…It was a queer thing, even a compromising thing, for a Party member to have in his possession. Anything old, and for that matter anything beautiful, was always vaguely suspect.”

Why are those useless objects so critical to our humanity? Alain de Botton provides part of the answer in The Architecture of Happiness:

“The desire to remember unites our reasons for building for the living and the dead. As we put up tombs, markers, mausoleums to memorialize lost loved ones, so do we construct and decorate buildings to help us recall the important but fugitive parts of ourselves. The pictures and chairs in our homes are the equivalents – scaled for our own day, attuned to the demands of the living – of the giant burial mounds of Paleolithic times. Our domestic fittings, too, are memorials to identity…at its most genuine, the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words, through the language of objects, colors and bricks: an ambition to let others know who we are – and, in the process, to remind ourselves.”

In sixteen years, I’ve probably quoted Why I Write at least a half-dozen times. In this seminal essay Orwell previews the very limited separation between himself and the fictional character of Winston Smith. He writes:

“So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information.”

The past, and the objects that keep us attached to it, are part of our identity. And to rewrite, disavow, or obliterate the past cuts us loose from our humanity– ripe to be molded by any ism -or- to devolve into trousered apes.

Limestone is now a near two-decade old collection of my own digital scraps of useless information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *